Over the last several days I've tasted four wines sporting 14.8% or so alcohol. They were two pinots, a merlot and a sangiovese all from the West Coast. It just doesn't work. These wines burn. Wines for the table that push or exceed 15% alcohol just don't cut it. They're out of balance and they give that burning tingle on the palate that works great with whiskey, but destroys wine. I know people love to point to Amarone when this topic comes up, but Amarone is more a wine for cheese and cigars than something for lamb chops or pasta. I know the hedge fund guys love Amarone with big steaks, but the honest truth is that match sucks and they like it only because Amarone is the only wine they can taste after a couple of martinis. However, Amarone has a lot more going for it than the American wines I just tasted because of its unique production method, which provides the deep fruit extract required to handle all that alcohol. It's a one of kind wine that can soar in the right situation: the main course not being one of them.
American producers need to get their alcohol levels under control. It is destroying not only their wines, but those that drink them. Yes you can have some wonderful wines with higher alcohol levels, but when it comes to food, which is what wine should be all about, when you're closer to 15% than 14% you're over the legal limit. Consumers should seriously consider putting the bottle back on the shelf when they see 14.5% and up on the label. Not that those wines can never be good, but the chances are that if you buy them you'll get burned.